Medical information

Sickle cell anaemia
Sickle cell anaemia is the most common genetic (inherited) disease in England, affecting around 12,500 people. Sickle cell disease (SCD), also known as sickle cell anaemia (SCA), is a hereditary blood disorder, caused by an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin found in red blood cells.


Causes of sickle cell anaemia

  • In people with sickle cell anaemia the shape and texture of the blood cells can change.
  • The cells become hard and sticky and are shaped like sickles, or crescents.
  • The cells die prematurely leading to a shortage of red blood cells.
  • This causes the symptoms of anaemia such as tiredness and breathlessness.

Symptoms of sickle cell anaemia

  • If you have sickle-cell anaemia, your blood cells can get stuck when moving through small blood vessels, stopping the supply of oxygen to parts of your body.
  • This is known as a 'sickle crisis'.
  • This can cause pain, tissue damage, and can lead to other serious complications, such as a stroke, or blindness.

Treatments for sickle cell anaemia

  • The only cure for sickle cell anaemia is a stem cell transplant.
  • However a bone marrow transplant has many potentially serious side effects and is not recommended for all cases.
  • The symptoms of sickle cell anaemia can be treated and people with the condition can learn how to help prevent a sickle crisis from happening.

Common triggers of a sickle cell crisis include:

  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Excessive temperatures
  • Excessive physical activity

Pamela, 18, was born with sickle cell anaemia and here she describes how to cope with the disease on a daily basis.

(video from NHS Choices YouTube channel)